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India embarks on LED energy-saving plan

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The night view of this northern Indian city may turn white in the future.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- LED lamps use much less energy than conventional lighting, but they cost a lot more to buy. So the Indian government has embarked on an ambitious plan to essentially pay people to replace their old bulbs with light-emitting diode lamps.

     The Bureau of Energy Efficiency is overseeing the plan, under which four state-run power companies have formed a joint venture with electricity distribution businesses. The plan? To buy light-emitting diode lamps in bulk, then sell them for as low as 10 rupees, about 16 cents. The market price for these LED fixtures is 400 rupees.

     The plan was announced by the Ministry of Power. India's annual demand for incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps is more than 1.1 billion, according to a ministry statement. The investment is expected to pay for itself through energy savings over a period of around five years.

     Energy Efficiency Services (EESL), the joint venture, has begun procuring LED lamps in bulk, the ministry said.

     The news comes shortly after the announcement that three Japanese-born scientists whose research, beginning in the late 1980s, paved the way for mass-produced blue LED lighting had won the 2014 Nobel Prize in physics. The beams from blue LEDs can easily be manipulated into white light. The revolution the three scientists -- Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura -- helped to spark is finally taking hold.

     At least in India. In the country's southern Puducherry region, streetlights are now LED-powered and 750,000 LED bulbs have been distributed to residents. Energy Efficiency Services has launched a similar project in Andhra Pradesh, where it will invest 10 billion rupees ($163 million) in energy-saving schemes.

     "In Andhra Pradesh, we are providing two or three LED bulbs as replacements to incandescent lamps at 10 rupees each," EESL Managing Director Saurabh Kumar said. "This is to make sure that people buy these lamps, use these lamps and, more importantly, throw away inefficient lamps."

     The venture in Andhra Pradesh is also going to invest in energy-efficient streetlights and agriculture pump sets. Kumar said these investments will reduce both power and maintenance costs. The state has 450,000 streetlights and 1.2 million agriculture pump sets.

     "We will recover the investment in the next five to seven years," Kumar said. "We'll be investing 10 billion rupees in Andhra Pradesh in all these schemes."

     The Andhra Pradesh project begins in the Guntur region, where Energy Efficiency Services will be supplying two million LED bulbs, 60% of which will be procured from Philips, 30% from Crompton Greaves and 10% from NTL Electronics India.

     National Thermal Power Corp., Power Finance Corp., Power Grid Corp. of India and Rural Electrification Corp. are the four power companies working on the project.

     An LED lamp can produce the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb using 10% of the energy. The bulbs are 50% more efficient than their flourescent counterparts. But they are pricey. When LED lamps were first made in India, in 2010, they sold for the equivalent of $19.58.

     Up to now, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency has only been promoting LED lamps by financially supporting states that hold demonstration projects.

     In a related move, the Ministry of Power has decided that from now on all bulbs being provided via a rural electrification scheme will be LED. The scheme helps 3.4 million poverty-stricken householders light their homes.

     "A number of electricity distribution companies have also entered into agreements with LED manufacturers for the supply of LED bulbs at preferential prices," the ministry said in a statement.

     "A barrier of LED use in the household sector is the lack of standardization and awareness," the ministry statement says. "The Bureau of Energy Efficiency will now be launching a labeling program coupled with an outreach and awareness campaign to significantly drive up LED demand."

     India is on the verge of a major power crisis. Many of its thermal power stations face an acute coal shortage. Around 66% of India's power generation is coal-based.

     Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is promoting the use of renewable energy sources. The country recently announced its first offshore wind power project off the coast of Gujarat.

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